Friday, October 22, 2010

Yesterday's Goodwill book selection was notably poor. The title of Moderate Drinking did catch my eye, but the only book I actually pulled off the shelf was The Jails of Lincoln County [Maine], 1761-1913. It's a local historical society publication, somberly bound in gray paper and composed by an author named Prescott Currier, which sounds like the name of an earnest small-town lawyer in a historical novel set in 1780s seaside New England. Be that as it may, The Jails of Lincoln County is dry, typo-laden reading, but it does have some amusing aspects--for instance, the table listing the categories of criminals by year of incarceration. Casting an eye down the lefthand column, this is what I read:

Tramps
Drunks
Felons
Debtors
Tramps
Drunks
Felons
Tramps
Drunks
Felons
Tramps
Drunks
Felons
[etcetera]

Saying it aloud is like chanting an alternate version of "Duck, duck, goose"--"Tramp, drunk, felon, DEBTOR!"

There's also some intriguing information about accommodations ("Sheets were not provided until 1838 and pillows didn't replace bolsters until a short time later"), personal hygiene ("A straight razor would have been a formidable weapon. . . . It is probable, however, that at the time shaving was [an] infrequent happening so that the jailer didn't have to be too concerned about arranging for his prisoners to shave"), and clothing ("Pantaloons were usually made of 'sattinet.'") My previous image of 1830s Maine prison conditions may have included shivering sheetless nights and heavy beards, but I can tell you right now that I never imagined that the felons were also wearing shiny short pants.

I also learned something about the women prisoners:

Women's crimes with one obvious exception were little different from men's, with the women committing their share of the murders, assaults, larcenies, house-burnings, even drunken[n]ess and selling liquor without a license. Even adultery and keeping a house of ill-fame were shared equally among men and women, and the punishment awarded for each was equally severe for both men and women. The only crimes which women seem not [to] have committed were counterfeiting and forgery. And of course there were few women debtors since in those days women did not usually exercise control over their financial assets. Of the some 1,800 persons committed for debt from 1811 to 1835 only ten were women, and three of those were committed with their husbands.

Now, if women didn't have control over their money, wouldn't they generally be in need of money? And wouldn't that need make counterfeiting and forgery attractive options? So why weren't any women convicted for those offenses? I find this puzzling.

7 comments:

Maureen said...

Great post. I enjoy reading stuff like you've quoted here. Also enjoyed your commentary on the "findings".

Thank you for stopping by my blog the other day. I appreciate it.

Have a great weekend.

Mr. Hill said...

"Duck, duck, goose"--"Tramp, drunk, felon, DEBTOR!"

Hilarious. We're going to play this at my son's birthday party today.

Ecrivain Mere said...

I love the Duck Duck Goose reference.

I also want to say that I do love to read your blog, even if I don't stop often enough to leave a comment.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Dawn Potter said...

If he gets caught when he's running around the circle, he has to stand in the stocks. (And remember, stocks make a great birthday gift.)

Dawn Potter said...

That last comment was for Mr. Hill.

To Ecrivain Mere--thanks for reading this stuff. I really appreciate it.

Dawn Potter said...

Maureen--glad you visit here too!

Lynn Pritchett said...

My family was in Lincoln County for nearly 300 years, so your comments on the 'duck-duck-goose-like' jails book really caught my attention.

Did you buy it or just skim through it? I'm interested to learn if any of members of my family had to 'pay a penance' in the local jail there.

Write on! Your blog is awesome.

Sincerely, Lynn
chocolynn@comcast.net